Why are spiritual traditions such a mess when it comes to sex?
Because all major world religions developed in the 5,000 years or so of peak patriarchy?
Because institutions are not flexible and response enough to adapt to social earthquakes like the development of reliable birth control? (But then why so much taboo around queer sex?!?)
Because of an over-emphasis on a mind/body or body/soul duality?
Because it’s hard to get a good religion off the ground if you don’t have a dedicated class of devotees who are focused on building the religious community instead of building families?
Whatever the reasons, spiritual teachings and teachers seem to have very little to say that is helpful or wise about sex life—to our collective detriment. This is a major area of life, and an intimate one, affecting us deeply. We should have better social ideals, even now, besides the conservative, “Don’t have sex until marriage and then…whatever, as long as you stay married” or the liberal, “Do basically whatever you want, but have safe sex and don’t rape anyone.” Certainly there is more to aspire to in love, wisdom, joy and communion than this?
Christianity of course has a particularly horrendous record when it comes to sex. It’s strange in a certain way, when Jesus is right there engaging with all the classic “defilements”: wine, loose women, tax collectors, disease and death. But, yes, of course, our actions around sex have consequences and sexual desire can be chaotic and combustable and cause real harm. Yet this same desire is so often the source of our deepest longing for love and connection. When you try and shut down this kind of inner fire, bad thing things happen. If the last two thousand years of Christian history can teach us anything about sex, it’s that repression is often more harmful that even the most ferocious desire. Can we all just admit this? Repression is a terrible strategy.
What are better strategies? Acknowledging that fixed sets of rules rarely work well in the mess of real life circumstances, can we at least start with some useful heuristics? Can we practice getting better in this area, together?
Here is my draft list of how and what I want to practice in the area of sex that feels congruent with the rest of my spiritual life:
- love myself first
- be ok with being alone
- ask for and give enthusiastic consent
- practice safety
- practice honesty
- avoid shaming myself or others
- share love and adventure in ways that make everyone involved feel more whole and alive
- give up hierarchies of sexual value
- avoid using other people as sexual status symbols
- practice the platinum rule: treating other how they want to be treated
- ultimately, drive all desires into One
These feel like a good place to start, a good foundation, but of course leave out a lot.
What is our responsibility when in comes to our partners’ relationship agreements with other people? Do we help them keep their agreements or is it none of our business? What is our responsibility to the children of our long term partners? Are long term relationships something to aspire to if we are not raising children? What kinds of relationships are the most conducive to sincere spiritual practice? I hope we can start to find some useful answers and leave some evidence for those who come after us.